High-Performance Buildings Find Capitol Hill Supporters


August | September 2008

High-Performance Buildings Find Capitol Hill Supporters

In June, the National Institute of Building Sciences presented its report Assessment to the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Energy on High Performance Buildings before members of the new High-Performance Buildings Congressional Caucus. The caucus, whose stated purpose is "to heighten awareness and inform policymakers about the major impact buildings have on our health, safety, and welfare," was formed partly to address the recommendations in the NIBS report. The caucus will focus on sustainability, accessibility, aesthetics, cost-effectiveness, function and operation, historic preservation, productivity, and safety and security.

The collaborative product of the 100-member High-Performance Building Council, the NIBS report responds to Section 914 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which directs NIBS to support the development of standards for high-performance buildings that would both reduce energy consumption and improve the comfort and productivity of building occupants. To that end, the report includes the following recommendations:

  1. Identify and establish new cost decision-making parameters for the planning, programming, budgeting, procurement, and delivery of high-performance buildings. The report finds that while initial costs often drive budget and procurement, life-cycle costs determine the true performance of a building. The report urges that procurement procedures, especially in the private sector, be reexamined and that both initial and life-cycle costs be considered early in the procurement process.
  2. Develop and establish performance metrics and verification methods for high-performance buildings, systems, and products that provide sustainability. The report recommends establishing standard metrics to measure the performance of sustainable buildings and asserts that energy efficiency should be a cornerstone of high-performance buildings.
  3. Develop and establish performance metrics and verification methods for high-performance building beyond minimal safety requirements to provide post-catastrophic operational capacity and resilience. The report states that high-performance buildings should outlast conventional minimum code-compliant buildings after a catastrophic event and calls for metrics and validation protocols to be established and coordinated with other high-performance building attributes to maintain services and activities within a community, provide critical services, and reduce insurance losses after a catastrophe.
  4. Develop and establish performance metrics and verification methods for high-performance buildings that provide increased occupant productivity. Because employee productivity is a core attribute of economic success, the report recommends establishing objective measurements to verify the link between high-performance buildings and productivity.
  5. Develop and establish performance metrics and verification methods for building serviceability, durability, and functionality. Failure of serviceability or functionality can effectively destroy the durability of a building and its potential value to the owner and society. The report recommends developing new standards of operation and maintenance for high-performance buildings that are tailored to the individual or institutional owner's needs.
  6. Develop and establish performance metrics and verification methods for high-performance buildings that provide universal accessibility. Citing the aging workforce, the report recommends that high-performance buildings address accessibility to maximize worker productivity.
  7. Develop and establish a new set of self-diagnostic protocols for the prioritization and optimization of high-performance building attributes. There are currently no guidelines or hierarchy for assessing which high-performance features to use in particular contexts. The report calls for guidance to be developed, which should be used during the earliest stages of planning.
  8. Establish two independent expert panels for technical and nontechnical areas as a necessary filter for advancing viable policies on high-performance buildings. The report asserts that creating expert panels to consult on the complex scientific, technical, industry, and business issues involved in implementing high-performance buildings would result in better-informed policy decisions. The panels would provide an integrated, cross-discipline body of knowledge. 

So far, the High-Performance Buildings Congressional Caucus has only two members: cochairs Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Judy Biggert (R-IL). But advocates of high-performance buildings are primed to capitalize on Congress's renewed focus on energy and environmental issues.

The full NIBS report can be found at http://hpbccc.org/hpb_report.pdf.